Graffiti in Montreal.

by Hugh Gilmore

Previously: While walking in Montreal’s Parc Lafontaine that first night, I came upon a trio of musicians – a guitarist, a drummer and a red-haired woman, in a thick, loose scarf, who strummed a Celtic harp – playing and singing a gentle South American song. Each contributed seamlessly and I was at once held captive under the soft glow of the street lamp. I sat down two benches away, hoping not to intrude, pretending invisibility: just two ears and an open heart.

During their break, I moved up a bench and then again to a wall even closer. They started playing again. I felt happy listening. Beauty does that to me, but it also makes me want to share my happiness. If I’m alone, happiness can make me lonesome. Hard times alone are more easily endured.

As will happen, my mind wandered and I became curious about the musicians themselves, the woman with the harp, particularly. The two men had somber, jazz-musician faces, nodding as they played, perhaps raising an eyebrow now and then, but she beamed as she played. She’d look up and smile, her face full, open, almost beatific, as though she’d been touched rudely by life, but was positive anyway. Perhaps she was a little over 30. What was her life like? Why was she out in the park playing music on a week night? How did she radiate such peace?

When they finished and began packing their instruments I stood up, quietly said “Merci,” and eased away. I thought, What a wonderful city this is – to have such excellent music in the park – if one dares to enter and walk at night! I thought of a piece of Caribbean wisdom quoted in a Loren Eiseley book: “Those as hunts treasure must go alone, at night….”

I went back the next day, with Janet and Andrew, near sunset. We found the trio in another section of the park, near where the fountain changes colors at night. I took the picture that ran with Part One of this story in last week’s Local. Again the music was beautiful and we listened through the dusky twilight into darkness. Again the red-haired harpist enchanted me with her skilled playing, her sweet voice, and her radiant presence.

Night fell. The crew took a break. A dark-haired woman stepped forward and greeted the harpist with a hug. She stood. They talked excitedly in French. I said to Janet, who speaks French, “Let’s go over and say hello.” I thought maybe I would profane my personal joy of last night by writing about it – what you might call “The Writer’s Curse” – eating your children and spitting them out as words. Sounds terrible, I know, but, if you’re a writer, delights are agonies if not shared.

We went over and offered our compliments and introduced ourselves to the two women. Translated from French for me by Janet, we learned they had been friends in the past, but lost touch till tonight. The harp-player’s name was Marie Eve. She was a musician and a music teacher and a dancer. The other, Andrée-Anne, was a musician too. Classically trained, she now performed for one of Montreal’s art circuses, one of the larger ones after the famous Cirque du Soleil. All too soon the two women had to excuse themselves, but Andrée-Anne and Janet had exchanged emails.

How great this Montreal is, I thought, people like those two women, in the park, every night! More. I wanted more. I looked forward to tomorrow.

But the next night it rained. I walked the park anyway, but no musicians were out. The following night it rained again. We left the next morning.

I did not find the trio again when we returned again the next year. Nor the following year. Nor the year after that. And so on. I once saw the drummer pedal by on his bicycle in. That was it. No Marie Eve, no Andrée-Anne.

Just as bad: no music. The groups that now strummed in the park were amateurs, most of them ham-fisted and tone deaf. My first impression that night had been wrong. Montreal’s Parc Lafontaine was not filled with brilliant musicians waiting for me to saunter along. I’d simply been lucky that first night. A once-in-a-while occasion. A sampling error.

I printed the picture of the trio and made several copies. I took them to Montreal with me every year to give as a gift of appreciation if I ever saw the trio again. I showed them to people in the neighborhood. I showed them to musicians and habitués of the park. No, no one knew any of them. That year I propped the picture on my night table. The image boosted my spirits during some lean times.

Then, one afternoon, I showed that picture to someone visiting Philadelphia from Montreal.

(Continued next week.)